I’m not sure what many people understood from yesterday’s article. So many felt that I was trying to claim Arsenal are far superior to Barcelona. Some tried to comment that almost every Barca player is better than his Arsenal counterpart.
Le Boss conveyed my thoughts with the perfect words in his press conference,
I do not deny their quality, because Barcelona have an exceptional team – but we are an exceptional team as well. The form of the day, the desire, the belief, how much we play for each other will make the difference. We have, of course, to cancel their strengths, but Barcelona will have the same problem. They are an individual and collective threat, but so are we.
No one denies the quality Barcelona have. In fact, if Arsenal don’t go through Barca are the only team I root for because despite their dirty politics their football is fantastic.
Arsene mentioned the keywords – form of the day, desire and belief. I would add that whichever team plays a better collective game will come out on top. Of course, individual moments of brilliance or blunders can always have a big impact on the result as we have seen in other big games this season.
Barcelona overcame a resilient Chelsea defence on their way to the Final last year. In the Final they beat a United team that actually tried to attack them. Makes you wonder what is the best strategy against such a phenomenal team.
I think we need to stick to our game. If we put men behind the ball we will not survive for too long. Even when we play a positive game, we cannot afford to keep a high line like we do. If our central defenders are near the half way line there is just too much space for this Barcelona attack to exploit.
If we push really high up, we crowd out their defensive third and give them vast spaces to attack. If we sit too deep we will invite pressure and struggle to get out of our half. I think we need to dominate possession in the middle of the park and pull Barcelona out creating space behind their defenders.
For this to succeed our midfield needs to be really close to the defence. I wrote about this while analyzing Spain’s victory over France in this article. France had a lot of attacking talent in the likes of Anelka, Henry and Ribery. Spain played a patient game with a solid defence and exploited the mistakes by France. I’ve a feeling this is exactly what Barca will try at the Emirates.
Those with a sense of humour might call this a France V Spain game anyway! Let’s hope this French team knows how to deal with the Spaniards.
At any moment when we lose possession at least one defender and midfielder should be close to Messi even if we don’t man mark him. It will be interesting to see whether Clichy bombs forward or plays a conservative game. In the recent past his attacking contribution hasn’t been great so it might make sense for him to stay deep.
Our wingers will have to track the runs of their full backs. I don’t think they will come out all that often but Barca players are good at timing such runs and we need to be aware of it at all times. I’m not convinced Arshavin will be able to do this consistently and hence the midfield must be ready to cover, just like the visitors cover for Messi, Henry and Co.
The tempo of the game will also be important. If both teams show respect to each other the pace will be slow as the players are watchful and conscious of conceding possession. The team that raises it at the right moments will succeed.
Arsenal need to move the ball from flank to flank. I feel we don’t do this fast enough in big games. If we use the width of the Emirates in the right manner, Barca defence can be stretched and given a stern test.
We also need to keep the ball for as long as possible thus frustrating the opposition. Barca are not used to playing without the ball and if we can sustain this they will make some mistakes as the game goes on. I’m confident that Song, Cesc, and Nasri can keep the ball but Arshavin and Bendtner will have to do much better with their touches.
We need to be ready to counter the tactics of Guardiola. I’m not sure if he will go with an attacking line-up or will play a conservative game. I mean as conservative as you can be with the likes of Messi and Ibrahimovic in the team! The injury to Iniesta means that two out of Toure, Kieta and Busquets might start the game. I think that weakens them considerably and could lead to Barca relying on individual moments rather than the possession game.
I’m going with the assumption that Song will play in midfield. God forbid, if we have to play him at centre back, all tactics will be redundant and we will have to rely a lot on individuals carrying us through.
Another assumption is that Fabregas will start. Without Cesc in the middle, the whole approach would change.
At the back I have a feeling we will risk Gallas. Campbell doesn’t look fit enough to play two high intensity games in three days and it will be a huge risk to play Song in defence.
On the right I’d pick Eboue over Sagna as the Ivorian offers an attacking threat that will help us use the full width of the pitch.
Will Arsene pick Denilson or Diaby to partner El Capitan and the Cameroon hard-man? I’m praying it’s Diaby. I’d love to see Nasri or Rosicky in the middle but they just haven’t played there often enough this season and sudden changes might not work in a big game.
The other advantage with Diaby is that he has a unique style and Barca won’t find it easy to stop him.
The front three are quite likely to be Arshavin, Bendtner and Nasri with Walcott and Rosicky available as impact subs.
The team I’d like to see is,
Almunia; Eboue, Gallas, Vermaelen, Clichy; Song, Cesc, Diaby; Nasri, Bendtner, Arshavin.
For all the hype around Barca, they scored only seven goals in the six group games and drew twice and lost one of those six. Even away to Stuttgart they really struggled and a more clinical team might have finished them off.
We need to take our chances and we have to avoid blunders in defence. Almunia, Clichy, Arshavin, and Bendtner are you listening?!